Fonzie eager to end Cyclones’ drought
Second-year skipper hopes to bounce back from bitter first season
Casey Stengel once pondered, “Can anyone here play this game?”
Of course, the Hall of Fame manager was referring to his bungling band of New York Mets back in 1962, the year the team arrived as an expansion franchise and lost all but 40 of the 160 games it played.
That question could have been asked day after day by first-year manager and Mets icon Edgardo Alfonzo during his initial season at the helm in Coney Island.
The league-worst Brooklyn Cyclones’ skipper and former National League All-Star watched helplessly as the 2017 Baby Bums went a franchise-worst 24-52 en route to missing the playoffs for a fifth straight summer.
They also pitched their way to the highest team ERA in the New York-Penn League at 4.18 and scored the fewest runs (241) on the 14-team circuit.
But after each game, Alfonzo found a way to get through his postgame interviews without flipping the buffet table or throwing his young, developing players under the bus.
After all, at the Class A short-season level, player development always trumps wins and losses.
Or at least that’s what teams that lose virtually every day are forced to say.
So, Alfonzo learned to manage misery as best he could, especially since this was his first season managing the club that his brother, Edgar, had famously guided to its first, and thus far only, NY-Penn Championship during the inaugural 2001 campaign.
“Fonzie”, as he is affectionately known throughout the Mets’ universe, had played on bad ballclubs as well as pennant winners himself, so finding a way to accept the precious little good with the abundance of bad was a learning experience in and of itself.
That didn’t make it go down any easier for one of the most popular and beloved former Mets.
“We didn’t have many players who could step up and do the job,” Alfonzo ceded while working out members of his new and improved team at sunny MCU Park on Thursday morning.
“They competed, but we couldn’t come through when we wanted,” he added. “Hopefully this year will be different.”
Judging from the club’s preliminary 2018 roster, this year has a chance to be very different.
Especially with a fresh batch of neophytes, returnees and climbing prospects, including a Brooklyn born-and-bred infielder, nine of the Mets’ 40 draft picks from earlier this month and hurler Nicolas Debora, who was the organization’s Sterling Award winner in Brooklyn last year.
Alfonzo, who will be inducted into the Latin American Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend while his young charges hit the field for the first time during a home-and-home series with Staten Island, can’t wait to turn the page on 2017.
“I expect better than last year,” Alfonzo said with a snicker.
“So far, so good. We have a bunch of new guys and they have great talent. And hopefully we can put it together and do better than last year.”
It would be hard not to.
Last year the Cyclones endured a seven-game losing streak to close out June and lost an eye-popping 15 in a row during August before ending the dismal campaign on a four-game slide, including back-to-back losses to the hated Yankees.
Debora, back with the ‘Clones after pitching to a 2.41 ERA in 14 appearances, including seven starts, last summer, figures to spearhead a much stronger and more imposing pitching staff this year.
The 24-year-old Dominican right-hander will be joined by a trio of high draft picks, including Kevin Smith (seventh round, University of Georgia), Tylor Megill (eighth round, Arizona) and Bryce Montes de Oca (10th round, Missouri).
“The pitching staff looks much better than last year and that will be huge for us early in the season,” noted Alfonzo. “We have a bunch of guys who can throw hard.
“The good thing about this year is we have a lot of guys we can play around with on the pitching staff,” he added. “We have better relievers than last year, because this league is pretty much about pitching. We have a great group of guys who can do the job.”
And the lineup might be more imposing as well.
The Cyclones selected Fort Greene product Manny Rodriguez in the 10th round and the Brooklyn native will doubtlessly be a fan favorite on Surf Avenue after batting .292 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs during his final season at the University of Cincinnati.
Mets’ sixth-round pick, catcher Nick Meyer out of Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo, is the highest drafted player on the roster, at least until the team gets around to signing first-round pick Jarred Kelenic, who could be roaming the Cyclones’ outfield next month.
“Batting practice was good,” Alfonzo said after his third full day of workouts with the squad.
“We have all the infielders that are new guys. But practice is different than the games. What I see so far, I like it.”
He’ll like it even more if the Cyclones find a way to knock off the Yankees in Staten Island on Friday night before coming home for Saturday evening’s opener at MCU.
“Friday is going to be a huge day and we will go from there,” Alfonzo said of the traditional rivalry series.
“I think it’s great to play Staten Island right from the start. It’s good competition. At least they’ll get a feeling of what New York is all about.”
And hopefully, what winning feels like.
“I expect that they will enjoy what they are going to do here,” Alfonzo said of his players. “It’s a great opportunity for them to [start their careers]. Hopefully they will play the game the way they are supposed to.”
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